Finding Your Way Back To Berlin

photos: Linus Ma

Seven months in the US tore me away from the beloved city at the Spree, and showed me my very own version of the “American Dream”, although I still don’t really know what that truly means. I got dropped into the shiny swirl of the City of Angels and just thrown out again, unprepared and unarmed. Suddenly, I am back in Berlin, and what was once familiar, now seems weirdly odd. So I have to find out all over again: What makes this city desirable? Here is a story about waking up from pink dreams and falling in love with Berlin again.

“Ölv Öro Fünzüch, büdde!”, out of wrinkly eyes with too much eyeliner the Edeka-cashier-lady stares at her tiny, chubby hands. She seems very bored. Her fingernails grow long, and shine very, very pink. She has an aura of bad temper, insomnia and cigarette smoke. I can’t help but examine her with a weird fascination. She looks up. I drop my gaze, get the cute, colorful money out and politely hand it to the lady, while keeping my distance. “Kass’nbong?” – “Nee, geht schon.” I put the GutundGünstig-Gauda into my backpack and make my way home, pondering. Dusk, grey asphalt, glaring car lights, tired faces, not quite winter anymore, but too early to call it spring. Everything feels shockingly German. I close my thin coat and while Berlin Deep-House-Sounds crawl into my ears, I’m asking myself: Why does everything suddenly seem so weird to me? Have I changed? Has Berlin changed? Or is this nothing but reverse culture-shock?
For seven months I was gone; seven months studying abroad, in Santa Barbara California, north of Los Angeles.

Now, over half a year later, I walk home, past Norbert’s toy shop, Tiamo pizza delivery and Sylvia’s hair salon and melancholy gets to me. Suddenly, I’m longing for palm trees aiming for the blue sky, bright sunlight burning in my eyes and this coolness, screaming at me out of every possible direction.

Los Angeles, grey, bright and sparkling, I really wanted to hate this city. This place where everything seems more like illusion than reality, where plastic faces eat organic gluten free morning tacos, discussing the next pop-up art show happening, and do it just loud enough so that people can actually hear how cool they are.
In Berlin, you can be whatever you want to be. In Berlin, you’re sitting in the mud at the Spree, a Sterni in your hand and feel like one of the coolest kids in town. At least that’s how I pictured it. But now, I walk by the rundown elementary school and the abandoned health department in front of my house and all I want is to go back. Back to cruising down Sunset Boulevard, holding my hands out in the warm sun, and the song on the radio: “This city is out of water, but be careful or you’ll drown.” Back to the weekend, where everything was just over the top. When you have the feeling of endless summer and your Vitamin-D level is throwing a party on its own—who needs drugged nights and raves in abandoned bunkers, right?

And well, yes, love played its part in this play. Gay Berlin has not made it easy for me, the city of riotous hedonists, of no commitment and casual sex dating. “I’m really at a point in my life right now, where I just can’t have a relationship. I’m sorry.” – “Yeah, got it. Just shut up. You wanna fuck, than take your pants off!”
“Wouldn’t it be funny if you really fell in love in the States?” My friends said. “Yeah, right, that would be funny!” I said, not really convincingly.

So, six months later, I found myself in a shabby hostel in Koreatown LA on a Saturday morning with a bad hangover, and a significant text message on my phone: “It was nice meeting, dancing and kissing you last night. Hope you come back to LA sometime before you leave. I’ll take you around to some fun things.” Oops, what happened there? That moment, when you slowly realize that you did not meet just anyone, but the manager of the party, 31, handsome, and seemingly Mr. LA Nightlife himself.

One week later and manic persuasion by my insisting US-friends later (“He knows everyone in LA. You gotta go!“), I stared out of the rattling Amtrack-train onto the sparkling Californian coast line—a light Berlin only gives you on its most steaming August days. My Destination: Los Angeles. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but as they say: YOLO!

What followed? – One weekend, one whirlwind, one rush; a glimpse into a life that I will never live… or will I? After drinking champagne in four star hotel pools, looking down onto the LA-skyline from comfy waterbeds and getting 40 Dollar Prosecco is known as casual-Saturday-pre-drinking, where’s the thrill in drinking four euro späti-wine on street corners? The concepts of casual and rich just don’t go together in Berlin. You’re either chill and poor, or rich and snobby, and if you’re rich, you better try hard to hide it! A concept I always defended and adored, one of the reasons I fell in love with this city in the first place. But here I am in front of my door, the grim grandpa from downstairs mumbles something like: “Juten Abend.”, I smile and sigh inside. It only took me to meet the right/wrong people once and the whole conception of my dream city collapsed.

Mentally, I have already booked the flight back. “I love Berlin, but this weather!” “I love Berlin, but everyone’s pissed all the time!” “I love Berlin but here no one’s casually chilling in rooftop pools… and well, he’s not here.”

And then I press my mental stop button and shake the pink filter blurring my mind.

For half a year I did nothing but complain about the US, about hyper-capitalism, poverty that jumps right in your face, and people who don’t even realize how much they behave like hamsters in a wheel. It felt like everyone aims for the stars, but nothing really keeps you from falling when you fail. The pink layer lifts and the grey Berlin sky already seems a little brighter. I just needed to turn off my mental dirt-filter, it seems.

Yes, I might have had the time of my life and I will miss him insanely. But, when the LA gay community celebrates a party at the coolest event in town, because there is Berlin-inspired music playing, complete with darkroom and leather outfits, the place that I call home, definitely seems freaky enough already. We always want what we can’t have, don’t we?

I’m young and poor – I can’t afford LA anyways. Right now, what better place could there be than poor-but-sexy Berlin!? I can still move when I’m old and rich – and until then I’ll sit in the mud at the Spree drinking my Sterni.

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Text: Andy, photos: Linus Ma

Andy D. studies communication and film studies at the Freie Universität. He is a classic Neuberliner: born close to Düsseldorf he got drawn to this crazy city like a moth to the flame. He is a part-time music maniac, wannabe film expert and aspiring writer, always eager to find new stories in this inspiring whirlwind of a city.

Linus Ma was born and raised in Berlin. He worked in Berlin’s nightlife as a bouncer before he got into street photography. What started as a hobby and side project during his travels has now become his main passion.

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